“Led in Triumph”
"But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere."
(2 Corinthians 2:14)
In this section (2 Cor. 2:14-17) Paul uses the metaphor of a Roman triumphal procession to describe his work as an apostle. He expresses his gratitude (“thanks be to God”) that God is able to display His magnificent power through his weaknesses (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9-10). This emotionally charged illustration provides us with a beautiful picture of the victory we all share in Christ.
Paul says, “Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.” In ancient Rome, when a battle was won, the victorious general and the conquering army would lead the defeated captives through the city in a celebratory victory-march. Although, from the captive's perspective, it was a death-march!
History records more than 300 of these “triumphal processions” between Rome’s founding (7th century BC) and the reign of Vespasian (1st century AD). The Emperor would ride a two-wheeled chariot pulled by a team of four horses through an ornamented triumphal arch with the defeated captives in tow. The arch of Titus, which still stands in Rome today, celebrates his conquest over Jerusalem in AD 70.
Though there is some debate as to how Paul meant his metaphor to be understood, I believe the picture he paints goes something like this: Christ, in defeating sin and death in His resurrection, is the victorious King of kings returning home from battle. He has conquered sinners by His love (Rom. 5:10) and parades His captives before the world as His trophies of divine grace.
Those of us who have willingly submitted ourselves to Christ’s reign were once His enemies but, through the power of His divine love and resurrection, have been reconciled to Him in the cross (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Eph. 2:3; Col. 1:21-22). Now, as we follow our King Jesus, we share in His glorious victory and we march, not to our death, but toward eternal life.
But Christ was not only victorious over the repentant. In Colossians, Paul uses the same word to describe God’s victory over enemies who persist in their rebellion against Christ. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Col. 2:15)
And just as the captives in the ancient world scattered sweet-smelling incense as they marched along in the parade, Christ’s willing captives disperse the beautiful fragrance of the “knowledge” of Christ in every place.
Jesus is the victorious general. He conquered our sinful hearts with His divine love and life. Today, He leads us in triumphal procession before the world as His trophies of grace. And as we follow Him by faith in this triumphal procession we leave in our wake the fragrance of the gospel leading others to Him.